A real Asia pivot

Why Don­ald Trump should meet with Tai­wan’s pres­i­dent

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - By Harry J. Kazia­nis

For far too long, the United States has stood idly by and al­lowed the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China to con­duct what is char­i­ta­bly de­scribed as a mas­sive power grab through­out the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion. Look­ing back just a few years ago, such a state­ment seemed unimag­in­able. Un­der the lead­er­ship of Pres­i­dent Obama, while Amer­ica has talked about piv­ot­ing to Asia with ro­bust rhetoric, we have of­fered the world’s most eco­nom­i­cally dynamic and strate­gi­cally im­por­tant part of the globe some im­pres­sive photo-ops, but lit­tle sub­stance to en­sure the sta­tusquo — which has al­lowed Asia to en­joy decades of peace, sta­bil­ity and un­par­al­leled eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity — would be pre­served.

China, sens­ing clear weak­ness, has been all too ea­ger to cap­i­tal­ize on our mis­takes. From en­trench­ing them­selves in the South China Sea thanks to a quick build-up of fake is­lands with grow­ing military bases now sit­ting atop of them, start­ing what can be de­scribed as a dan­ger­ous game of high-seas chicken with our ally Ja­pan in the East China Sea — all thanks to a mas­sive military ma­chine that is in part pow­ered by stolen Amer­i­can tech­nol­ogy — the stage is set for Bei­jing to dom­i­nate the re­gion in the years to come.

From there, things could get even worse. As China marches to­wards hege­mony in Asia, one coun­try stands to lose far more than any other, and, if trend lines con­tinue, could not only fall un­der China’s sway but ac­tu­ally be ab­sorbed into its borders. That nation, and it is a nation in ev­ery sense of the word, is none other than the Repub­lic of China, or what is com­monly known to­day as Tai­wan.

Thank­fully, and most timely, change is com­ing to Amer­ica’s Asia pol­icy, es­pe­cially when it comes to Tai­wan. Pres­i­dent-elect Trump, in words in as well as in deeds, has shown he will push back against Chi­nese ag­gres­sion, en­sur­ing the re­gion re­mains at peace.

So, while I not only ap­plaud Mr. Trump’s 10-minute phone call with the demo­crat­i­cally elected leader of Tai­wan, Tsai Ing-wen, I would ar­gue Mr. Trump should take the next log­i­cal step. If our new pres­i­dent truly wants to break with the old for­eign pol­icy molds that sim­ply no longer work and push back against Chi­nese co­er­cion I have a sim­ple so­lu­tion: meet with Pres­i­dent Tsai when she passes through the United States next month.

The rea­sons Mr. Trump needs to meet Tai­wan’s leader are ob­vi­ous. First, this small but scrappy democ­racy of just 23 mil­lion peo­ple has been ea­ger for a greater re­la­tion­ship with Wash­ing­ton for decades and is in both nation’s mutual in­ter­est. Tai­wan is Amer­ica’s 10th largest trad­ing part­ner and is ea­ger to sign a bi­lat­eral in­vest­ment treaty, es­pe­cially now that the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship will not move for­ward. A meet­ing be­tween the two heads of state would be a good way to jump­start ne­go­ti­a­tions that could see both na­tions gain clear eco­nomic ben­e­fits for years to come.

Sec­ond, no nation that is a re­spon­si­ble democ­racy that re­spects the rule of law, that has a vi­brant press and strong record on hu­man rights de­serves to be treated as an in­ter­na­tional sec­ond-class cit­i­zen. While Tai­wan, the birth child of a Chi­nese civil war that is yet to be brought to a clear con­clu­sion, would find it dif­fi­cult to be granted full diplo­matic recog­ni­tion by Wash­ing­ton — Bei­jing would see this as a clear move to­wards in­de­pen­dence and could spark a war — Mr. Trump should en­sure ties are en­hanced to just be­low this level, as a clear sign of sup­port for the Tai­wanese peo­ple.

Last but not least, if China were to ever gain con­trol of Tai­wan, it would have un­fet­tered ac­cess to the Pa­cific Ocean. At present, ge­o­graphic re­al­i­ties make it dif­fi­cult for Bei­jing’s naval forces to sail into the wide ex­panses of the Pa­cific with­out pass­ing through cer­tain choke­points, choke­points that could be re­in­forced with weapons that could de­ter China from sailing into open wa­ters in the event of a cri­sis. In­deed, Tai­wan might just be the most valu­able piece of strate­gic real es­tate in the whole of East Asia, all the more rea­son this nation must be­come a true ‘arse­nal of democ­racy’ — armed with the best and most so­phis­ti­cated Amer­i­can weapons to de­ter any hos­tile act.

Amer­ica’s most im­por­tant goal — that it shares with part­ners and al­lies across the Asia-Pa­cific and wider Indo-Pa­cific, in which Tai­wan is a piv­otal part — is the main­te­nance of a peace­ful and pros­per­ous sta­tus-quo that en­sures no one nation uni­lat­er­ally co­erce oth­ers or at­tempt to bend their will through forced mea­sures, turn near-seas or oceans into ter­ri­tory or use hos­tile acts to achieve its aims. There can be no bet­ter way to ad­vance such a cause than to meet with the pres­i­dent of Tai­wan.

Harry J. Kazia­nis serves as di­rec­tor of de­fense stud­ies at the Cen­ter for the Na­tional In­ter­est, founded by for­mer Pres­i­dent Richard M. Nixon, and is ex­ec­u­tive editor of The Na­tional In­ter­est.


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